Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Intermission #1: The Memory Remains....

David stood on the beach and watched the waves breaking on the sand. It was late in the day, the sun was beginning to lower itself into its nightly resting place, and he could feel the breeze dropping a few degrees as the air ruffled his brown hair.
He was standing with his feet at the very edge of the water and with each break he could feel the cold fingers of the ocean wrap themselves around his toes. He stepped forward, enjoying the feel of the swirling water and the gritty sand on the bottoms of his feet.
It was beautiful. The water reflecting the sun, the white of the breakers, the dip and dive of the birds who called this place home.
It was late in the day and many of the other tourists had already packed up, discussing where they would get tonight’s crab legs or hush puppies, umbrellas and blankets dangling from their hands.
But he was still there, taking it all in.
Vacation. A much needed one after the chaos of the past few months.
David looked down at the sand next to him and studied the indentions a pair of small feet had made. The footsteps were running away from him further up the sand and he followed their quiet destruction until he saw the small boy who had made them.
Sean was sitting near the water, pushing sand up around him, trying to build a wall against the encroaching ocean. The water was determined to get to the boy though but Sean continued to fight back, pushing more and more sand to his sides and feet. David smiled at his son and began walking towards him.
Moira had left three months ago. Packed her bags and took off for her new job across the sea. Took off and left her confused husband and sad son behind. He still did not understand any of it. How could someone change their mind after a decade of marriage and decide to focus on their career more, even after having a child. She kept saying it was for the best, that she could give Sean the life David was unable to on his teaching salary. He knew they had been struggling to make ends meet and when he approached her about selling the house and moving into an apartment, he was caught off-guard when she dropped the bomb about her new P.R. position.
And about wanting a divorce.
Of course, selling the house made perfect sense to her then.
David now could hear Sean’s giggling as the water broke through the sand and tickled his toes.  
He walked over to his son, studying his profile in the evening sunlight and thinking about how lucky he was to have such a sweet boy. Sean would be with him until the end of the month and then he was to visit his mother on the island for a bit before school started.
Moira had agreed, reluctantly, to let Sean stay with David and finish out the school year. Sean had already visited his mom twice in the past few months. With her new income, round trip tickets were easily affordable.
It hurt David a bit to hear his son rave about Hawaii, about the palm trees and white sand, about how his mother was able to borrow the resort’s (her employer’s) boat whenever she wanted and take him out onto the deep, blue ocean.
He sometimes wondered if it would be better if Sean were to stay with his mother. Instead of subjecting him to the endless back and forth between the two parents.
But it was just so hard....
He couldn’t turn that part of himself off that would enable him to follow through with letting Sean go for good. That seamless part inside of him that loved his boy and could not bear to be away from him.
He ached for Sean. Ached with the knowledge that the two people his son trusted most had let him down.
He looked down at the boy. “What are you doing, little man?”
Sean giggled some more and began to re-build the retaining wall encircling him.
“I’m trying to stop the water, Dad. I have to keep it back.” He pushed gobs of sand forward with his small hands, pushing against the hurrying surf that broke against the wet sand and kept knocking it down.
“I have to protect myself,” Sean squealed. “I have to protect myself from the evil water! Help me, daddy! Protect me!”
David reached down and plucked his son from the falling sand and wet surf. Sean laughed heartily as his dad swung him around and around.
“I’ll protect you!” David called into the soft hands of the ocean breeze. “I’ll protect you!”
The steady unbroken beep of the monitor dispersed the old memory from David’s thoughts. There was no more pulsing, rhythmic sound to accompany the beating of Sean’s heart.
No beeping.
No heartbeat.
It took a second for it to register. No beeping meant no heartbeat. No heartbeat meant that Sean was….
David jerked back to the present. The crash team worked quickly around the still body of Sean. He couldn’t discern any features of the people in the room, only the outlines, his vision blurred by the many tears that now began to flood his eyes.
“Mr. Marks! Get back please. Give us some room!”
He felt Nurse Megan’s steady hands guide him back to one of the room’s dark corners. Sean was blocked from his eyesight by the team surrounding the bed.
David heard the somewhat familiar “Clear!” and then a break in the steady drone of the monitor before the flatline beeping continued.
“No,” David whispered.
The glare of the bright lights struck Moira in the face and she unleashed another scream of intense pain.
The scream bounced off the white walls of the large room.
But it was a good pain.
Sweat poured down across her brow and David leaned into her vision, lovingly wiping the dampness away with a small cool cloth.
“You’re doing great, honey. You are doing so well.” He smiled down at her and wiped more of her drenched forehead clean.
Moira returned the smile and then readied herself for another jab of the sharp pain that had been her constant companion for the past three hours.
The doctor lifted his head from between Moira’s splayed legs and gave a thumbs up.
“It’s almost here, Moira. Just a little bit more and it’ll be through. Now give me one more BIG push,” his voice muffled through the mask covering his mouth and nose. He ducked back between Moira’s legs. “Now push! Push down hard!”
David and one of the nurses each grabbed Moira’s hands and steadied her as she lifted her upper body up and bore down with all her might.
The pressure was too much and Moira’s head began to swim, spots jumping through the bright light of her vision. She let loose a mighty yell of determination as David urged his wife on.
There was a tremendous sensation of weight on her lower body and Moira’s breath caught in her lungs. And then suddenly the weight disappeared.
Moira answered the sudden release with a mighty inhalation. She fell back against the bed as David leaned over her again. His face was full of concern and he had Moira’s hand in a vise-like grip.
Another cry filled the room.
And Moira found herself smiling.
“It’s a boy!”
Her eyes filled with new tears, these not from the epic pain earlier, but of a joy she had never known before this very moment.
David approached her, holding a bundle of blankets in his arms.
“You did it. You did it, sweetheart. Look at what you did.” He smiled down at her before leaning over and displaying the blanket’s contents so that she could see.
The small, round bald head, still wet from the fluids of two bodies sharing life together for the past nine months, moved slightly under her gaze. She reached slowly up and took the small bundle from David’s shaking hands.
Moira gazed down at her son and her heart filled with love.
“Hello, Sean,” she whispered. David kissed the top of her head and she leaned in close to her husband.
I will give you the world, Sean, she thought to herself. I will give you everything you ever need and more.
The small baby opened its eyes and looked up at his parents.
Moira’s eyes grew wet with tears…..
…..she blinked several times, trying to clear the moisture blinding her.
Something was off.
She blinked again and this time managed to focus her blurred sight. She was lying on her right side, which was soaked to the bone. Moira turned her head towards the ground. Water flowed around the side of the wrecked car. The side window was busted and her door crumpled inward, crowding against her ribs. She tried to push herself up and a blast of sharp pain shot through her side.
Moira screamed.
Outside, through the pouring rain that beat against the car’s metal surface, something roared in answer.
She stopped and turned her head upward towards the sky.
Julia was lying limp, dangling down towards Moira. She was held in place with her seatbelt. Moira reached a hand up and lightly touched the young girl’s shoulder.
“Julia,” she whispered. The girl groaned slightly. Blood dripped from a cut on her forehead.
Moira unhooked her seatbelt. Again the pain hit her side. Broken ribs, she thought to herself. Must be broken ribs.
She willed herself up into a sitting position, her knees screaming at her along with the ribs. She grabbed Julia from around her waist and unhooked the girl’s seatbelt. Immediately Julia’s full weight fell against Moira. Moira eased her back against the seats. Julia released another groan and her eyelids flickered and then closed again.
Leaning back against Julia to hold her in place, Moira turned to the broken windshield. Half of it had folded over onto itself and the whole thing was coming loose from the car. Moira lashed out with her leg and kicked the windshield. Once, twice. Each time her knees and ribs begging her to quit.
The windshield fell from it’s frame and toppled out into the ditch. Rain quickly began pelting her face and arms. She reached back and ducked her head under Julia’s arm. Slowly, she dragged the unconscious girl from the wreckage and to the steep side of the ditch, making sure they were clear of the flowing water.
A dark shadow loomed over both women and Moira looked up at the monstrosity that had knocked the car from the road. As it slithered past. large scales glimmered in the falling rain. She could see the outline of the huge reptilian head through the white wet fog.
Moira stood up and looked in the direction they had been driving, towards where the hospital lay. Then she knelt down and shook Julia. The girl exhaled deeply and her eyes snapped open and stared at Moira.
Moira shouted through the rain: “I need to get Sean! I need to protect him!”
The young boy flicked the long black hair from his eyes and stared at the white linoleum floor. His bare feet touched the cold floor, but he did not feel it. In fact, he did not feel anything below his waist. The tumors that riddled his body had closed off those nerve bundles that enabled sensation to travel from his lower extremities to his brain.
He was paralyzed. The wheelchair sitting nearby a painful reminder of this.
His name was Grayson. He had just turned sixteen and this was his seventh hospital in three years.
The doctors were not able to help him. They did not know what was wrong with him. They did not know how to cure him, had no idea what was causing the tumors to continue to grow all over his body. They kept treating them with radiation, over and over again, leaving the boy weakened and sick from the constant irritation.
But nothing worked.
So he bounced from place to place, from one experimental trial to another, piling hope upon hope, trying to outrace the despair that came with each new transfer.
Until now.
Grayson stared at the floor.
And then he closed his eyes.
The light filtering through his eyelids changed and he felt a rush of wind blow through his hair.
He opened his eyes again. The floor was gone.
His feet touched stone.
And he could feel the rough texture of the rock’s cut surface.
Grayson stood from the bed, which had made the transition with him, and turned to the immense bright light that emanated from behind.
A large golden door stood before the boy. It was a double door, twenty feet tall and ten feet wide. The light came from the door; its surface flickering with golden fire.
Grayson walked around the bed and stepped towards the structure. It stood alone. No walls extruded from either side of it, no steps leading to its threshold.
Suddenly, the light grew brighter and the youth had the shield his eyes from it.
He stood with his head down, eyes closed, feeling wave after wave of air wash over him.
Time is running out. The voice entered Grayson’’s mind. The first time it had happened, a while back, was jarring. But now he was used to the intrusion, found comfort in the unfamiliar treble of the voice..
“I know,” he answered in his gruff teenage voice.
The Dragonlord is on the move. He is awakening his armies and now has enough power to change the foundations of each permutation.
“What will he try to do?”
He will try to unite them all. And then rule them.
“I’m trying to gather them together. But...there are so many this time…”
I know, Grayson. And some of them are not ready to leave yet. But their worlds are temporary.
“What about the Breaker?”
He will wake soon. And then many things will happen. Very quickly.
A huge rush of air blanketed the boy again and this time Grayson thrust his chin into it, his eyes still closed. The air was cool and warm all at the same time and it felt good against his skin.
The Dragonlord knows about the Breaker. He is already traveling between the worlds. He is looking for him. He will try to destroy him before the boy comes to power.
“I will get them ready.”
You must warn those who can protect him. You must ensure he awakens. You must get the others ready for transition.
“I hear you.”
They are almost ready. You must guide them, strengthen them. When the time comes…..
“When the time comes, I will protect them. I will protect them all.”
The light around the door grew brighter and brighter until it disappeared within the illumination.
Grayson opened his eyes, blinking away the spots left from the blindness.
He was back in his hospital room.
He stared down at the floor where his feet touched the linoleum.
He tried to wiggle his toes.
They did not move.

-End of Intermission #1

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Episode 3: The Broken Wall, Crawling into Danger...

Previously in WORLDBREAKER:
There are more worlds than you know about. And the pathways in-between them and ours remain a mystery.
On the fields beyond the Tower of Songs amidst the end of a golden age for the land of Sedaria, dwarven king Throm has led a united army against the foes of the Dragonlord. But the Dragonlord defeats the great army and destroys the Tower of Songs. The Dark One uses his secret weapon to extinguish the sun and turn the land of Sedaria to Shade.
Gregor, the supervisor of the mining dwarves deep in the Fist, decides to send Sean to the human town of Greendale. The boy will make a stop at the dwarven council first. Mig and his energetic nephew, Wit, volunteer to lead Sean through the dark tunnels of the mountain into the lands beyond. It is a five day journey through the tunnels.
David heads down to the cafeteria to grab some coffee. Outside in the raging storm, he sees the great form of a beast roaring at the hospital. As the hospital goes into lockdown mode, he hurries back to his still comatose son.
Moira has flown into O’Hare Airport, but the terminal is packed do to the storm. She begs a ride from a young woman who is getting off work, and the girl agrees to take Moira to her son, Sean.
Flight 213, inbound from Boston, explodes in the air and crashes. It is a victim of an attack from a flying dragon.

Episode 3
The light blinded Sean. He squinted into the brightness and took a few steps forward. His eyes began to adjust and he found he was standing in a long white hallway. Each step he took echoed in the bright corridor.
Sean began to make his way forward and found there were doors on either side of the hall. Some were closed but many of them were open. The hallway was empty, but the rooms on either side held occupants.
Children. All different ages. All in hospital rooms.
Sean paused at one open door. A small girl sat on the wide windowsill, staring out into a dark beyond. She clutched a small doll close to her chest, the delicate figure hidden within the folds of the hospital gown.
The girl turned towards Sean. He watched as she held one finger to her lips.
Sean nodded and the little girl nodded in return, then went back to gazing out the window. He continued down the hallway.
In the next room, a small boy lay sleeping in the bed, A warm hat was pulled down over his head and Sean studied the numerous I.V.’s running from their poles to where they disappeared into the covers. The boy shifted slightly in his sleep and a small sigh escaped his lips. Sean continued on.
He passed the closed doors and at each open one, paused to study the room’s patients. Most of the children slept, but a few sat looking out the window or staring at the wall. No one talked to Sean and only a couple looked his way.
He was nearing the end of the long hallway now. A large door stood closed at the very end and a teenage boy, older than Sean, sat in a wheelchair waiting for him. He stopped and looked down at the teenager.
He must have been 15 or 16, and he seemed very sick. His skin was extremely pale and sweat glistened across his brow under the harsh lights. The teen reached up and pushed a lick of his long black hair away from his eyes.
“Hello,” he said, matter-of-factly to Sean.
“Hello,” said Sean.
The boy wheeled his chair past Sean, clearing the way to the closed door.
“He was one of us,” the boy said.
Sean looked from the door to the patient. “Who was?”
“The Dark One. The one who destroyed the songs.”
Sean placed a hand on the door’s knob. It felt deathly cold under his fingers.
“Do you mean the Dragonlord? Is that who you are talking about?” he asked.
The boy nodded.
“He was angry. He could not find his light through all the pain. When he passed through the door, he was all twisted inside.” The boy paused and wheeled his chair back up a few more feet. “He had lost hope.”
“What is this place?” Sean asked.
“This....this is holy ground.”
Sean opened the door.
He was staring into darkness. Sean rolled over into the torchlight. He was still reeling from the impact of the dream, could still see the white walls, hear his footsteps echo off the hard linoleum. He blinked his eyes, letting them readjust to the flickering flame.
Wit was kneeling down next to him. The young dwarf raised a finger to his lips. Sean followed Wit’s eyes to where Mig was standing. He had his back to the camp and was studying the darkness in the tunnel beyond the reach of the light.
“Something is moving down the tunnel,” Wit whispered.
Sean slowly got to his feet and tried to see what Mig was seeing. But the dark was impermeable. He watched as Mig drew the short, sharp blade that hung from his side. Wit followed suit and the trio stood still, waiting for any sign of the unseen mystery.
After several minutes, Mig sheathed the sword and turned back to the lit torches.
“Whatever it was, it’s gone now,” he said grimly.
“What do you think it was?” Sean asked. He kept looking down the tunnel where the thing had been. Nothing stirred.
“A crawler,” Wit said. “Nasty things. Got a million legs and pincers sharp as steel.” He picked up one of the torches and grabbed his pack from the ground. “Fast too. Get on you before you even know it.”
“Eh, that’s enough,” Mig quieted his nephew. “It’s best we get going. Get some distance between it and us, eh?” They shouldered their packs and began hiking down the tunnel. Mig had been examining the part of the tunnel they had already traveled through. Sean shivered, thinking about how they must have passed the crawler in the dark and not been aware of it.
It was day two of their march through the Fist. They would hike for hours in the dark, and then stop for camp. Mig and Wit would trade off sentry duty while Sean slept, or tried to sleep. The tunnels were cold and uncomfortable.
As they walked, Sean thought of the dream. What was he doing in the hospital? And why did it seem like all those other kids were waiting for something to happen? And what had been behind that door?
He had never been hospitalized, had only been to a hospital twice in his life. Once when his Grandma Evers had taken a nasty fall and his mom had taken him to visit, and again when his best friend in third grade had broken his leg. He remembered the stark feel of the place, the pressure it seemed to exude. He couldn’t place his finger on it but the place had held some sort of power.
He flashbacked to the words of the teen in the wheelchair.
“This is holy ground.”
What in the world did that mean?
“Eh!” Mig piped up from the front of the group. “We should make the first way station sometime during this shift.”
“What’s a way station?” Sean asked Wit.
“It’s a place where we can re-supply. You’ll see. We placed them throughout the tunnels.” Wit started to do a little jig as he walked. “Got to get some fresh vittles in the young pup’s body. Keep you strong for wee misses down in Greendale. Ha!”
The dwarf began to sing in his young gruff voice:
There’s the fair maidens
dancing in a row,
When the stars shine
they dance real slow
Take their soft hands
you lucky little man,
And down to the river
we all will go!
Tiddle tiddle tee
tiddle tiddle ---
“Would you pipe down, eh?!?” Mig’s voice roared through the small confines of the tunnel. “Every crawler in the Fist is going to come looking for us if you keep singing that swill!”
“Ahh, I would say if they didn’t hear us before, they sure did now. What a roaring voice you have, uncle!” Wit smiled at Sean. “Like gentle streams flowing over beautiful tiny waterfalls.”
Sean started to laugh.
It covered up the sound of Mig grumbling.
David pushed out of the elevator and ran down the hall towards Sean’s room. Suddenly a siren filled the hall, two long wails followed by several beeps. These were cut off and an automated female voice filled the building.
“All staff please respond to code 37. All staff please respond to code 37.”
Sean rushed to the entrance of Sean’s room just as Nurse Megan exited.
“Go inside and wait with Sean. This is a lockdown procedure. Seems there may be a disturbance but I am sure it is nothing to worry about,” she said.
David thought about the red glowing eyes he had glimpsed outside.
“I hope you are right,” he said and ducked into the room.  
Sean was still lying still on the bed. The storm raged against the windows and David moved to pull the blinds closed. As he tugged on the line that raised and lowered the blinds, he heard a soft thunk against the glass of the window.
One of the rock eating bugs from earlier was back. David watched it for a second and then closed the blind, blocking out the weird insect and howling rains behind it. He stared at the blind, his mind returning to the glowing eyes and the large reptilian form he had seen outside the cafeteria.
David whirled around. The sound had come from the bed where Sean lay. He ran to his son’s side and grabbed his hand up in his.
“Sean? Was that you, sweetheart?” he said.
Sean lay unmoving. His chest rose slowly with each breath. The machines sitting around the bed kept up their steady beeps and drones. And then underneath the cacophony of sound:
Sean’s lips barely moved with the word.
“Sean!” David leaned frantically forward. “It’s me, Dad! Are you there, son?”
There was no response. And then as if it was tied to a string, David watched as his son slowly raised one hand. The fingers formed around some invisible object and lifted themselves to Sean’s lips.
David blinked in surprise. Sean was miming eating something! His son was moving!
“Are you hungry? Is that it? Sean, do you want something to eat?”
“Shhhh....” The slow exhale of breath as David leaned forward trying to catch every syllable.
After several seconds there was nothing else. No more sounds and no more movement. Just the steady hum of the machines and Sean’s breath keeping pace.
Outside the room, David heard people running down the highway. The automated female voice returned.
“All personnel. Lockdown on floors 1 through 3. All personnel. Lockdown on floors 1 through 3. Please follow lockdown protocols.”
David ignored the robot voice. His son had communicated something, which meant that he wasn’t in a coma, right? He mashed the call button on the side of the bed and waited for someone to come.
“Sean, I heard you. I’m here, son. Stay with me.”
“What did they just say?”
Moira stared at the radio, shocked by the previous announcement.
Julia turned up the volume and they listened intently. Julia worked in the bookstore in the airport terminal. She seemed nice and genuinely concerned about Moira’s predicament. But now they were distracted from talking about Sean by what had just come across the radio.
“They said flight 717. That’s the one from Boston,” the younger woman said. She turned to Moira as she guided her small car through the drenched the highway. “Look out the back and see if you can see anything.”
Moira turned and stared out the rear window.
“We should be able to see where is crashed from here,” Julia said. She braked as a large semi passed them, throwing gallons of water up onto the small hatchback.
“I can’t see anything through all this rain,” Moira said. She turned back to the front, trying to hear the radio announcer. But now the signal was beginning to fade out and static filled the car. Julia punched the radio off.
“A plane crash too. Unbelievable. I’m glad we got out of there when we did.” Julie turned her blinker on and began to merge onto the exit ramp.
“Again, thanks so much for doing this,” Moira said.
“It’s okay. You need to get to your son. I understand.”
They drove down the exit ramp and turned right. The rain continued to pelt the street and Julia slowed the car to a crawl. Already there was signs of storm damage. Small branches and leaves danced along the sides of the road and they glimpsed one large tree uprooted by the storm.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Julia said. Moira nodded in agreement.
“How much further?” she started to ask but before the words finished coming out of her mouth, Julia stomped on the brakes. The car fishtailed on the road’s surface and began to spin. Julia fought the wheel, turning hard into the rotation and straightening the vehicle back out.
The car slid to a stop.
“Are you okay?” the young woman panted. Moira nodded and looked out the windshield to see what had stopped them.
“The bridge is out,” Julia said. Before them, water poured across the place where a small concrete bridge used to be located. The water was moving fast and Moira watched the strong current carrying debris quickly past the illumination provided by the car’s headlights.
“We’ll have to turn back,” she said. Julia notched the dash shift into reverse as Moira studied the rushing river. As the car began to back slowly, she leaned forward, her fingers grasping the dashboard tightly.
“You need to hurry up,” she whispered into the dark interior of the hatchback.
“What?” Julia turned to her. “What did you say?”
“HURRY UP!” Moira screamed as the swift moving river exploded in front of the car. Her eyes craned upward through the wet windshield, following the long reptilian neck that now towered over the broken bridgeway.
It’s some sort of large snake, she thought to herself. Julia was in full panic mode in the seat next to her. There was the sound of thunder, until Moira realized it wasn’t thunder at all but the snake creature roaring into the night sky.
Julian floored the gas pedal. The car’s tires spun on the wet asphalt before finally catching and reeling the vehicle backwards. Moira watched as more and more of the creature climbed up out of the water.
As Julia turned the steering wheel, spinning the car around in a full 180, the creature’s head slammed down on the roadway. The women caught a glimpse of glowing red eyes and large jagged teeth before the small car leapt forward into the storm.
“Oh my God! What is that thing?” Julia wailed.
“Just drive and get us out of here,” Moira answered. She was watching the side mirror, watching as more and more of the snake creature slithered from the river and chased the car. How long was it? The length of a subway train? Longer? And if it was longer, how can we get away from it?
Her thoughts were answered as something slammed into the side of the car. There was the sensation of being lifted up, of being weightless, for just a brief second before the car landed back on the roadway. The creature’s roar was answered by the screams of the two women as Julia fought to keep control of the car. The large head crashed into the side of the car again. This time there was no weightless sensation, only the violent tortuous spinning of twisted metal as the small hatchback began to roll.
It hit the ditch on the right side of the road and slid to a stop on it’s side. In her semi-conscious state, Moira was briefly aware of their attacker towering over them, backlit by the bright lightning that punctuated the storm.
Julia moaned next to her as Moira tried to blink away the rain that fell onto her face through the broken windows.
The air filled with the sound of thunder.
They reached the waystation about an hour after the tunnel opened up into a large cavern. The path continued along a steep rock wall. On the right side, the wall rose high into the darkness, but on the left there was a sheer drop on the edge of the path. The ledge they traveled on was barely large enough to accomodate someone walking at a normal pace. But with the cliffside gaping at him and the surrounding darkness threatening to swallow him whole, Sean felt very queasy making the trek to the rest stop.
Several times Wit had to urge the boy along as he slowed nervously, choosing his steps carefully along the ledge. His shoes continued to kick small stones over the side, the little rocks disappearing quickly into the night below.
The waystation was a large outcropping that dipped back into a small indention in the rock wall. Sean could see several small packs stacked neatly and tied together. He could also hear the sound of water running quietly.
“Here,” Mig pointed to the back wall of the small cave. “Fill your canteens back there and then we can get whatever we need from the bags, eh?”
Sean followed Wit to the rear wall where he was surprised to see a large trickle of water cutting through the rock. It filled a small shallow pool before disappearing into the stone floor. Wit knelt down and stuck his face into the pool. Sean grinned as the dwarf turned and looked back at him. Water trailed off his dark brown beard and the young dwarf squinted through his wet eyes.
“Very refreshing,” Wit said.
They filled their canteens and Sean found that Wit was right. The water was refreshing. It was quite possibly the best water he had ever tasted. It was cool on his tongue and enlivening going down his throat into his belly where its coolness turned to a comforting warmth.
“Good, eh!” Mig turned his canteen up, swallowing great bouts of the water. “It comes from the snowcaps at the peak and runs all the way through the Fist to the great lake below. We’ll have to cross that lake before getting to the entrance and outside.”
Wit was going through the stacked bags which were filled with rations and supplies. He pulled several small biscuits from one bag and stacked them on the floor.
“What the wyrm berries is this?!? Corn biscuits? I hiked two days for corn biscuits?” He tossed one of them to Sean. “Here, try to put that down your gullet.” Wit threw another towards his uncle. The small biscuit bounced off the older dwarf’s chest and hit the ground. The youngster shrugged and went back to digging through the packs.
“Where the blazes is the dried rabbit and the crow’s eggs?” he mumbled, his head buried in the sack.
Sean paid no attention to the complaining dwarf. He was looking at Mig, who had ignored the thrown biscuit and was looking back up the flat ledge they had just traveled on. Mig stood motionless, studying the dark shadows beyond the light of their torches, much like he had done earlier when Wit had awakened Sean.
The boy brought a finger to his lips.
“Shhhh....” He was trying to quiet Wit. He watched as Mig pulled the small sword from under his jacket.
“Shhh....” Sean whispered at Wit. The young dwarf looked up to see what the fuss was about and saw his uncle’s posture. Concern washed over Wit’s face, his beard still damp from the dunking earlier and bits of corn biscuits clinging to it.
“What is it, uncle?” Mig waved a hand slowly, quieting his nephew.
Sean brought the corn biscuit Wit had thrown him up to his mouth, but did not take a bite from it. There was a sound coming from the darkness. A soft scuttling sound.
He heard stones falling over the edge of the path. The scuttling grew louder and now was joined by the sound of loud clicking.
“CRAWLER!” Mig yelled as the horrible thing skittered into the light of the torches.
A crawler in Shade looked very much like a centipede from Sean’s world. With the exception that the crawler that was coming towards them was a good thirty feet long and huge. It’s flat body was supported by hundreds of thin bony legs and two black eyes peered from behind the largest set of pincers that Sean had ever seen.
The crawler was a gray mottled color, it’s pigment having faded after generations of living in the dark recesses of the Fist.
Mig shouted a deep guttural cry in an unknown language. He charged the huge creature, raising his blade high above his head. Sean watched as the dwarf slid under the grasping pincers and thrust the sword into the underside of the crawler as it raised it’s forebody up to attack.
The blade clanged off the tough scales of the crawler and Mig dodged to one side as the centipede dove down on top of him.
Sean was pushed to the side as Wit scrambled to help his uncle. The young dwarf had his own sword in his hands and brandishing it, closed in on the hungry horror.
“Come, you ugly smelly pile of troll dung!” Wit yelled. The crawler turned its attention to the attacking dwarf. It lunged forward and Wit quickly knocked away the terrible grasping claw-like jaws of the beast.
The crawler attacked again and Wit had to dive to one side, narrowly avoiding being pinched between the sharp jaws. Mig joined the battle from the other side. The older dwarf slashed downward with his blade, cutting several of the tiny legs from the gray body. The small appendages fell to the cave floor, still twisting and moving across the rock.
The crawler gave a high pitched warble of a scream at the loss of its legs. It swung the rear half of its body against the rock wall. Large pieces of stone were knocked from the ceiling and Sean ran from his hiding place, trying to dodge the falling debris.
Wit yelled another battle cry and hit the writhing beast with his sword. Again the sword clanged off the tough hide. Wit swung again, but this time the sharp pincers caught the sword in mid-strike. It twisted the sword from the dwarf’s grip and tossed it away.
Mig struck again at the crawler’s legs, and another handful of the small limbs were severed and fell to the floor. The crawler screamed again, giving Wit enough time to dodge out of the way. He began scouring the floor for his blade as Mig kept the centipede busy.
“Where’s the flaming blade at?!?” Wit called, his small hands searching the rock and dirt along the cave’s floor.
Sean glimpsed the blade lying against the opposite wall from where Wit was looking. He ran to the place and picked up the sword.
“I’ve got it, Wit!” he yelled over the noise of the crawler.
Mig slashed again at its legs as Sean tried to run back to Wit and deliver the sword.
The crawler gave a loud squeal and twisting its flat body, lashed out with its backside, hitting Sean flush in the chest. All the air whooshed from the boy’s body. He dropped the sword and rebounded off the wall.
Another thrash and Sean felt the hard slick scales of the crawler slam into him again. He could feel the pain as his body rolled across the hard stone and his hands grabbed for something to stop his momentum.
But then he felt nothing as he went over the cliff’s edge.
“SEAN!” Mig’s yell filled the small chamber. He watched helpless as the boy’s body disappeared over the side of the overhang.
Sean fell and fell.
Down into the deep dark.
“He talked. I know it!” David was pleading with Megan. The nurse had run back into the room in answer to his call.
“I’m sorry. But that’s not possible. Sean’s still not showing any signs of brain activity,” she answered. “I’ve really got to get back. They’ve got us on lockdown and we have to make sure everyone is secure....”
“Because there’s a dragon outside,” David said matter-of-factly.
Megan stopped. “What?”
One of the machines next to the bed began to beep.
“What’s happening?” David reached for Sean’s hand as Megan checked the monitor.
“His heart rate is up.” She grabbed the stethoscope from around her neck and began to listen to his chest.
“I’m telling you, he whispered and then he moved his hand.” David watched as she listened intently. Another beep from the monitor and Megan began to frown.
“What is it?” David asked worriedly.
“Step back. Step back now.” She reached over to the wall and pressed a large red button. Immediately the sound of an alarm filled the room. It joined the computerized voice outside in the hallway.
“All personnel, please follow lockdown protocols. Please keep the main traffic areas clear.”
“He’s going into some kind of shock.”
David watched the monitor as Sean’s heart rate climbed steadily. The little waves measuring the beat of his son’s heart flew across the screen in a radiant green color. He could already hear the sounds of the emergency team approaching outside the room.
Then David watched as the small waves stopped cresting and a long flat line replaced them. This was accompanied by a continuous beep from the display.
“We’re losing him!” Megan yelled as the crash team entered the room.
Everything turned to chaos as David was pushed aside to one far wall. His eyes never left the steady green line on the monitor.
Sean was flatlining.

-End of episode 3-